My summer has been a flippin’ whirlwind. Apologies for the many highly-engaged followers who had many a question fall on deaf Matt ears. I’m back though. Full-throttle.
I thought it would be interesting to give some highlights to what I’ve personally been doing and thinking about over the course of the summer – and how my health has been affected by my actions.
This, of course, is not to be interpreted as any kind of incontrovertible proof – no different from my infamous FUMP experience. My personal adventures in diet and lifestyle certainly have an impact on my thinking. How could they not? Anyway, here’s what I’ve been up to.
To make some extra bucks, and take a little reprieve from the computer screen, I took up another summer of working as a Wilderness Ranger. This was my 7th season of doing this since my first stint in 1997. Each summer provided an excellent dietary comparison though.
The job is insanely physical. For 20 weeks I hike with lots of weight on my back over huge mountain passes in some of Colorado’s most rugged terrain. A typical day involves hiking, with anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000 feet of vertical ascent, carrying anywhere from 25-65 pounds on my back, walking from 5-20 miles, and stopping to do grunt labor such as cutting trees with a huge ax. The typical day is 10 hours, and at least seven of those hours are spent working very intensely.
The typical exercise recommendation for Americans is like 30 minutes, three times per week – a total of 1.5 hours. Ha! Try 30 hours a week!
Anyway, this quantity of exercise is extremely draining. So draining in fact, that my body temperature dropped significantly during the 20-week time period. Although I can’t be 100% sure, as the thermometer I used over the winter broke and I had to buy a couple of new ones, I really do think my basal temperatures dropped an entire degree (on the old thermometer I never dropped below 97.9… not once. On these two new thermometers my average basal temp in the mornings is all the way under 97.0. This brings up an important point – try lots of thermometers to make sure your body temp really is what it is!).
This brings up what is an incredible myth – that exercise raises your metabolism. That is simply false when it comes to the beliefs about calorie burning and calories used by the body. Exercise uses more calories. If you exercise so much that you can’t possibly eat enough calories to keep up (in my case, I would’ve had to eat about 6,000 calories per day just to break even), then your body must do what? Raise the amount of calories it uses at rest, or lower the amount of calories it uses at rest? The answer is quite simple.
Sure, when you exercise, you use more calories – but that says nothing about your true basal metabolism. My body clearly cut back the amount of calories it burned at rest to conserve energy – a natural and smart response to using more energy than was being supplied.
Aware of this, I ate as much as I could over the summer. I also went ultra “high-everything” for several weeks before the summer began to intentionally gain a few extra pounds (I went from 173 to 178, which took me three to four weeks to pull off).
Despite my efforts to keep the weight from dropping, something I’ve done ever since my first season as a ranger (age 19) when I dropped from over 170 to 155 (and had no increase in muscle definition – meaning that it was almost exclusively a loss of lean body mass), I did have a huge mid-season crash. I lost my appetite and became extremely repelled by food for about two weeks and tanked down to 168. But my appetite did come back and I was able to jump back up to the 173 level, where I stayed, for the remainder of the season.
So basically, for the first time since my 2nd season (age 20), I completed 20 weeks of grueling labor without significant alteration in weight. 173 pre-force-feeding to 173 post-season. I have resumed force-feeding to raise my basal temp, and although it took me nearly a month to go from 173 to 178 before the season while sedentary – I went from 173 to 178 in four days! If that’s not proof of having slowed down basal metabolism with exercise I don’t know what is. Exercise just made it easier to gain weight in a hurry!
In the next post, we’ll talk about what I ate and experimented with. For now, here are my 7 seasons laid out with general changes in body weight, body composition, and corresponding eating habits…
Season 1 – Lost over 15 pounds but hardly noticed, as I had no increase in muscle mass and most of my pants still fit. Diet primarily consisted of breakfast cereals, commercial whole grain breads, jams, jellies, tons of fruit, snacks such as trail mix, and noodles, pastas, etc. for dinner with ample protein from lean fish (canned tuna), and lean meats. Primary fats from olive oil, nuts, and butter in that approximate order.
Season 2 – Didn’t lose an ounce. Thought, after season 1, that I could “eat whatever I wanted” and it wouldn’t matter. Breakfast was typically 6 doughnuts and a quart of chocolate milk, lots of fruit and fruit juice. Typically ate 3-4 pbj’s by 10am. Candy bars and more sandwiches, burritos, etc. for lunch with snacky foods. Dinners more or less the same as season 1 but larger quantities. Fat and overall macronutrient ratios roughly the same with the exception of much greater amounts of vegetable oils from the doughnuts.
Season 3 – Went from 180 to just under 170. Ate more homemade food and less junk, but still had plenty of cereal with reduced fat milk, packaged pastas, commercial bread, fruit, and so on. Had a strong desire to get lean so I didn’t purposefully overeat, but my hunger was insatiable as during season 2.
Season 4 – This season occurred 6 years after season 3 (large time gap). Went from 180 to about 170 like season 3. I was very vegetarian-based at this time. Primary staples were rice, beans, whole grain breads, cereal – now with soy milk instead of reduced fat milk, etc. Ate insane amounts of dark chocolate, but overall tried to eat as little as possible. I did not freely indulge in food like in season 2 for example. Lost a lot more muscle mass and retained more fat than in season 2 or 3. Primary fats from chocolate, nuts, and olive oil.
Season 5 – Went from 180 to about 170 if I recall. I had a raw food fetish at that time, and ate huge amounts of raw vegetables, raw nuts, sprouted raw quinoa, dried fruit, fruit, cacao, goji berries, and so on (typical health geek garbage). I still had a predominantly vegetarian bias leftover from my vegetarian years at that time, but was just starting to incorporate farm fresh foods from “Sustainable Settings”, including grassfed beef, pastured eggs, and pastured chicken. Lost more muscle mass and less fat than in prior seasons. Began having problems with indigestion (acid reflux) after meals for the first time in my life. Also started eating coconut oil at this time with raw honey on sprouted breads, so fats were becoming predominantly saturated at that time (cocoa butter/coconut).
Season 6 – Went from 177-ish to 167. I was blogging during this season (2007). This was when I was pounding meats, raw milk, raw butter/cheese, and keeping carbohydrates low a la Schwarzbein. The season started with me getting extremely defined in comparison to years past. I retained muscle and lost fat. I was unrecognizable compared to prior years. Noticed that I wasn’t tired at the end of the day, yet I couldn’t keep up with co-workers, whereas in years past I would typically outperform them physically, but be exhausted at the end of the day. Seemed phenomenally healthy, almost invincible, for the first half of the season, and had no hunger in between meals for the first time ever while being that active. Even my pet dander-induced asthma vanished. However, skin health and digestive health tanked by the end of the season (huge issues with acid reflux to the point that I couldn’t even drink water without getting indigestion). Pet allergies crept back in.
Season 7 – Just discussed it, but had no significant loss of either body fat or muscle mass for the first time since I was eating a half dozen doughnuts for breakfast every day (ha!), which was the only other season that I didn’t try to restrict something – calories, animal protein, cooked foods, carbs, or calories. Skin improved over the course of the season, and the best part, acid reflux that had been troubling me for three years, completely disappeared. I could pound a quart of ice-cold water with meals and have great digestion. Caloric intake was probably the highest ever as well. My metabolism did slow as discussed, but presumably less than in years past and indicators of health improved, instead of declined, over the course of the season.